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A Dirty Dozen with KEVIN KELLY from SPEEDFREAK – April 2023

| 17 April 2023 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “Chicago Metal quartet Speedfreak is an institution in the city’s hard rock and metal scene. With a sound that ranges from combative thrash riffs to boozy and bluesy sludge grooves, Speedfreak promises to be the cause of your next hangover. Lauded by Dee Snider as “having great songs” and “f*cking fearless”, the Chicago four-piece has a resume to match their intensity, having played at top notch venues such as Metro, Double Door, Reggies, Chop Shop and The Forge and opened for acts like Helmet, Crowbar, Mothership, Texas Hippie Coalition, Raven, Kill Devil Hill, and Shadows Fall.” We get guitarist Kevin to discuss new music, influences, and more.

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

In contrast to the title, our latest release, Fast Lane Livin, took forever to release! It finally dropped in April of 2022, but had been coming together for a long time before that. We’d recorded a couple of demos and eps here and there, but we hadn’t properly released anything since…jeez, 2013 maybe?… and so a couple of the tracks on Fast Lane Livin had been written and part of our live set for years before we finally recorded them. But a lot happened between then and the album finally coming out. We went through a couple of drummers before Dave [Hornyak] finally joined and things started to pick up again. With him in the fold, we began gigging again, and then writing new material. Eventually, we were able to get into the studio with Andy Lagis and lay down Fast Lane Livin in 2019. We were starting to plan the release, we even filmed a couple of music videos for “Up the Ante” and “Doomsday Devices” with Zane Rerek, and then BAM the pandemic hit, and everything shut down. Then, once the world started to open up again, BAM, Dave broke his leg, and was out of commission for another couple of months. It really seemed like one thing after another until finally we were able to get the record out! So while Fast Lane Livin is our debut LP, in some ways it feels less like a debut and more like an anthology. For a couple of years, I want to say from 2014 until 2016,  the band rented a house where we lived and rehearsed together, and that house became the party house, and so that’s the mindset we were in when  we began writing a couple of songs that would wind up on the record. So as a record, Fast Lane Livin’ is really about, well, exactly what it sounds like: partying hard, living hard. So I don’t know that I’d use the phrase “hidden” to describe anything in Fast Lane Livin, exactly, but anyone who was around and partied with us in that house might recognize some of the stuff in that record as a little bit more autobiographical than it might seem at first listen.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I can’t ever remember music NOT being a part of my life, to be honest with you. My mom loves music, and when I was growing up, she was the kind of person who would always have the radio on, no matter what she was doing. So even though she and my dad weren’t musicians, I grew up in a house filled with music. My school had an orchestra program, and so my parents signed me up when I was pretty young.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Like I said, my Mom had music on all the time while I was growing up. A lot of old rock n’ roll and a lot of old Motown. So I grew up listening to a lot of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, the Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops. But the band that changed everything for me was AC/DC. The first time I heard “Highway to Hell”, that was it, I was hooked. I’d heard rock music before, but for some reason hearing Angus Young play those first three chords… it was so raw, gritty, so unlike anything I’d ever heard before. From then on, that was it. I couldn’t get enough of AC/DC. I devoured their records, I bought their t-shirts and wore them every day, I wouldn’t shut up to anyone who’d listen about how great they were. I tried to scrounge and save my allowance and birthday money or whatever for a real Gibson SG (because, duh, that’s Angus Young’s signature guitar), but that’s a pretty hefty price tag for an 11 or 12 year old kid, or however old I was. So,  I begged and begged my parents, and they finally relented and bought me a brand new, black Gibson SG. I played the shit out of that thing. Still do. In fact, as I write this, that same guitar is hanging here in my office, with about a million more scratches than it started with.

4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Hmmm. I don’t know that there’s anyone on my list to write a song with, because songwriting is such a weird, personal, collaborative, nonlinear process sometimes. You never know how you’re going to vibe with someone until it happens.

5. What is your favorite activity when out of the studio and/or not on tour?  What do you like to do to unwind?

I’m a diehard football fan, and so besides music, the Chicago Bears are pretty high up on the list of things I love. I always try to make time to watch the Bears play. When the band all lived together in the party house, every Sunday during football season, us (and whatever friends or girlfriends or whomever happened to be at the house) would fire up the grill, crack a couple of cold ones, and watch the game. So if I’m not listening to music, chances are pretty good I’m listening to some sort of sports podcast. Besides that if I’m looking to unwind, I’ll probably read or go for a run or something.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

Every once in a while I’ll come across one of those people who thinks any music with loud guitars and screaming vocals is satanic death metal, but that usually laughs or makes me roll my eyes more than cringe, and those types of comments mostly come from parents or annoyed neighbors or something. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten an out-of-left field comparison in a review. I usually just describe Speedfreak as a rock band. But we all know how metalheads love their genre labels, so if I had to get more specific, I’d say we’re somewhere between groove metal and hard rock.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

When we get together to hang out, it’s probably at the bar Dave owns, so we’re probably ALL drinking. But If we were all just grilling and chilling in the backyard? I’d say Dave or I are most likely to be manning the grill. It’s a toss-up between who brings drinks (all of us probably bring beer, at least one us brings whiskey), but it’s definitely me or Tom [vocals] who would bust out the guitar first.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

A few years back, we got to open for Kill Devil Hill when they came through town. We show up for load-in and I’m lugging my amp backstage and almost plow over Rex Brown, who was playing bass for them at the time. He was a super chill guy, and we ended up getting to hang out with him and Dewey Bragg and the rest of the dudes in their band a little bit later that night, but in that first split second I  definitely had this “Holy shit! That’s Rex Brown from Pantera!” moment.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

There are a lot of cool things about playing in a band, and there are a lot of frustrating things about it too sometimes, as I’m sure is the case with any band, or any job probably. But being a musician, insofar as you have that desire or ability to create music? Man, that’s special. So to answer your question about what the best part of being a musician is? I think… how can I phrase this without sounding too transcendental… I think music is a language, just like all art is a language, or just like all language is art, and I think being able to use that language to express or to create is really a gift. It just fulfills that need or “scratches that itch” for my brain, and I think the best part of being a musician, for me, is to be able to do that. And I get that that sounds a little new-agey or like astrology or something, and I see the irony in talking about music as this gift and then using my guitar to write riffs for songs about drinking or drag racing or trying to get laid. But I mean, I think I’ll always be a musician. I think that’s something that’ll always be a part of my identity no matter what kind of day job I have or what band I’m in or what instrument I play or even whether or not I’m any good at it.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

Nah, I never get tired of answering questions. I’m lucky to get to do this. I try and approach each gig with a mindset of trying to perform to the best of my abilities, because it’s someone’s first time seeing us play, right? Someone chose to spend their hard-earned money or chose to spend their time watching my band and I perform, and so we owe it to that person or to those people to perform to the best of our abilities. We try not to take ourselves too seriously, but we always take what we’re doing seriously. So, personally, I see this in the same vein. Someone is spending their time or their money reading or listening to this interview. Could be the first time that person has ever heard of me or ever heard of Speedfreak. I owe it to them not to get tired of answering certain questions or playing the same songs, or whatever right?

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I can’t point to any specific moment, it’s not like we turned down a make-or-break gig or bombed an audition or something, but just in general?  I can’t speak for anyone else in the band, but if I had a “do over” or could take a mulligan, I’d spend more time playing and less time partying.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

This might be cheating, but I’d want to be at the Fillmore East on December 31st, 1969 and January 1st, 1970. Those are the performances where Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys album was recorded. Gypsys was a pivotal album for Hendrix – and, let’s face it, for the entire world, because Jimi Hendrix was such a legendary part of the music world as a whole – and featured some of maybe the greatest guitar playing by anyone, ever. My dad gave me a copy for Christmas or for my birthday or something not long after I’d started playing guitar (probably because he was sick of hearing nothing but AC/DC all day). So if I could be there for the creation of any record, it would be that one, to see Jimi Hendrix play the notes that I’d hear over and over again all these years later.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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